So why Carcassonne? First, there’s the climate. On average, it’s 10 degrees F cooler in the summer and 10 degrees warmer in the winter than Atlanta. No snow! There’s a fresh fruits and vegetables market three days a week in the main town square that’s within walking distance of any apartment or house we are likely to rent, as is the train station and even the airport. There are a dozen super/hyper markets around the edge of the city all accessible by sidewalks, bike paths, or the 1 euro bus. For water access there’s the Aude river and its parks, the Canal du Midi with tree-lined walking/riding paths, and a huge lake for swimming. For history, how about living beside two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Canal du Midi, opened in 1681 and Europe’s largest medieval fortress that is a town unto itself. Each summer the city hosts a 6-week long music festival with dozens of concerts weekly, many of them free. Famous singers known throughout Europe plus worldwide names like Elton John, Sting, and Bob Dylan have performed. Did I mention that Carcassonne sits in the middle of France’s largest wine-producing area? Talk about living in wine country!
That’s the why, but how do we figure out where to live? We knew that at least initially we wanted to rent a place to make sure that we really wanted to settle there. Doing a home search from 4000 miles away is certainly easier with French real estate sites such as Seloger, PAP, and Le Bon Coin, for example, that list mostly unfurnished places and give you just basic information that generally does not include a street address. The real estate company Foncia does usually give you the address but it’s only their own rental listings and even they only give you the basics such as the size of the apartment in square meters, how many rooms there are, and three or four photographs. By the way, to easily convert square meters to square feet, as an estimate, just add a zero to the meters. An apartment listed as 50 square meters is roughly 500 square feet.
When you rent an unfurnished apartment in France, they mean that it is totally empty: even the kitchen sink and lighting fixtures may be missing.The word “furnished”may also be different from what you’d expect in the US since it’s pretty much up to the landlord to decide what’s going to be included. By law, furnished apartments rent for a minimum of one year while unfurnished ones carry a minimum 3-year lease and those times are soon to double.
Since we figured that simply getting ourselves to a new location would be stressful enough,we started looking for an alternative that would offer more of a turn-key experience where we could show up with a couple of suitcases and move right in. Enter the holiday home! For years we have used services like VRBO, HomeAway, and more recently AirBnB to rent fully-equipped homes in the US and in Europe for 2-week vacations. I had read about 2 different people who had successfully rented their apartments in Paris for a year with this method so it was time to try it with Carcassonne. There were 100’s of properties listed in and around the town and even inside the medieval fortification but since the castle receives 3 million visitors each year, we didn’t think that we wanted that many people passing by our front door. We narrowed the choices down to two, emailed the owners, and are now waiting for the contract for the place we ended up selecting. For us it means we will not be immediately concerned about buying furniture, getting utilities connected, finding an Internet provider, etc., all of which would be conducted in French, of course. For the owner it means a steady monthly income for a year with no concerns about daily or weekly check-ins, check-outs, cleanings, refundable damage deposits, bank transfers, and a constant turnover. Everyone will be happy.